When famed modernist painter Charles E. Burchfield stated, “Doodling serves as a means of keeping the hand or fingers limber, so that they are always ready for serious work,” he clearly had no idea that decades later an internet company would take his words to heart.
In 2019, I was working as an after school art teacher and as a warmup for the day’s lesson, I had the students embark on the Doodle for Google competition. The point of the competition is for children and adolescents to creatively represent Google’s logo within a drawing that responds to an annual theme. It proved to be a fun way to learn more about my students’ interests, as well as a way to get them to think about fairly profound themes and issues (the overarching keyword for 2019 was: “When I grow up, I hope….”.
A lot of the students drew themselves partaking in a range of professions, mostly having to do with things they were currently passionate about. So yes, there were several professional superheroes and video game protagonists (there were a lot of video game aficionados), but also a coach (the student loved basketball) and, much to my amusement, an art teacher (teaching animation and game design). Another common narrative was scenes of students taking care of their families and friends. Altogether, the range of drawings the students created were profound vignettes into their personalities. We went around the room and each student had the chance to explain their drawing, elaborate on the symbolism and hold a brief Q and A session with their classmates. And that was just the exercise prior to the day’s main lesson and project!
A doodle may not be the raison d’etre of an artistic oeuvre, but it should be considered an art object in and of itself. Most importantly, doodling is a skill that can help you become a better thinker and communicator. I implore all art educators, parents, guardians and young art students who are reading this to take your doodling and/or your students’ or children’s doodles seriously. Doodling is an integral part of the creative process and helps formulate artistic intelligence, but it also has unique benefits outside of the arts.
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Srini Pillay (2016) states a few ways that doodling supports our emotional, cognitive and intellectual wellness. Some of the ways are surprising, such as a study showing that when two groups listened to a long and rambling voice message, the group that was asked to doodle was actually more efficient in remembering the details of the recording. They were actually 29% better at recounting the information from the voicemail than the group who was not doodling! Another key benefit of doodling is that it can relieve stress and help us to focus better. He concludes “It seems then that if you’re struggling to concentrate, find yourself stuck or feeling ‘incomplete,’ a time-limited doodle expedition could be just the thing you are looking for. It will likely activate your brain’s ‘unfocus’ circuits, give your ‘focus’ circuits a break, and allow you to more creatively and tirelessly solve a problem at hand” (Pillay, 2016).
So, doodling is arguably one of the more profound things you could do with a pencil or pen. A look through the Doodle for Google submissions provides ample proof. A recent visit to the Google Doodle homepage affirmed how a seemingly innocent doodle can tell a story that expresses humanity in such a complex and confounding manner. The doodle I am referring to is one of this year’s submissions from Alithia Haven Ramirez, a ten year old from Uvalde, Texas. Alithia was killed along with eighteen other students and two teachers after a gunman stormed into her classroom on May 24, 2022. Although this year’s theme (“I care for myself by…”) was different from the one in 2019, she will never get to realize the question my students addressed in their doodles.
What Alithia did realize is the powerful humane responses that making art can evoke. She addressed the prompt by creating a scene of a stylized version of a girl on the couch. This girl (perhaps a self-portrait?) is clearly artistically inclined, we can tell from the symbols that the young artist included in her doodle such as the strands of yarn that are wrapped around her fingers and the way she has incorporated the typography of Google’s logo into framed works of art, a pair of scissors, and two windows that depict the Earth and a smiling sun.
As a supplement to her drawing, Alithia wrote, “I want the world to see my art and show the world what I can do, I want people to be happy when they see my passion in art.” According to an article published in Hyperallergic, she had aspirations to study art in Paris (Velie, 2022). Alithia’s art and her passion for art is immortalized and is accessible for millions of viewers worldwide. But most significantly, it is a beautiful memorial of who Alithia was and who she might have become. She was a bright, creative and compassionate person who knew that art is a means for real transformative change and a way to celebrate the beautiful moments and aspects of our shared humanity.
References, Notes, Suggested Reading:
Pillay, Srini. “The ‘thinking’ benefits of doodling.” Harvard Health Blog, 15 December 2016. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-thinking-benefits-of-doodling-2016121510844
Velie, Elaine. “Google Doodle Shares Artwork by 10-Year-Old Uvalde Shooting Victim,” Hyperallergic, 19 July 2022. https://hyperallergic.com/748502/google-doodle-shares-artwork-by-uvalde-shooting-victim/